The Education System Part Two: Mental Health
You wake up at some time before sunrise and end up at school. You go to your classes and are assigned various amounts of coursework and homework. You talk to friends during lunch, maybe do some of your homework, and then go back to class. Eventually, the day ends, either after fourth period or whatever extracurricular activities you have, and you get home. Unfortunately, rather than relaxing like you want, you’re supposed to do homework, which sometimes can take until you have to go to bed, and then the day repeats—over, and over, and over again. Everyone complains about school and classwork, no matter how much they have or to what extent they enjoy the class. By the end of the week, we feel worn out, often drained, thankful that Friday has come around so that we might have some free time over the weekend (besides doing some homework or finishing a project). However, this is supposed to be the time of our lives! We’re young! Adults tell us not to waste our youth playing video-games or spending time on our phones, but aren’t we already wasting it spending so much energy and time on the soulsucking monotony that is school? How can this be changed for the better, so that fewer people either stop caring altogether or stress themselves to the point of destruction?
One crucial step that could be taken would be to start school later, which would allow students to get more sleep. Everyone knows that high schoolers tend to stay up late. However, allowing us to sleep in, even just an extra hour could do a world of good. According the the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep. Some buses arrive as early as 6:00 am to pick up students. Therefore, assuming it would take a student probably around half an hour from their first alarm to getting on the bus to get ready, they would have to wake up around 5:30 am. This means to get the ideal amount of sleep, they would have to be asleep by, at latest, 7:30pm. However, in a poll of Apex High students, majority answered that on a regular basis, they fall asleep some time between 10:00 pm and 1:00 am, some with ranges slightly earlier, the earliest being from around 8pm-11pm, and others a bit later, going to bed between midnight and 2am. If students on average wake up around 6:00 am, over half of students polled would not get the bare minimum requirement of eight hours per night, and this does not include those where 10:00 pm, the time one would have to be asleep by in order to get those eight hours, is on the earlier half of their range of sleep. If it is assumed that everyone happens to go to bed on the latter part of the usual range of time they go to sleep by, only one sixth of students get enough rest.
Sleep plays a crucial role in a person’s health, both mental and physical. Even in the short term, lack of sleep can affect judgment, attention, memory, mood, one’s ability to learn and retain information—something that is crucial for functioning in school, as well as increase someone’s risk of accidents and being injured. If this sleep deprivation continues in a chronic pattern, then it can lead to health issues, including but not limited to, cardiovascular disease and obesity. Also, regarding disturbances in mood, multiple studies have shown that those with sleep problems were much more likely to develop major depression than those who slept normally.
Along with this, any student or teacher could tell you that at the end of the day, success in school is measured not by how much you’ve learned but how good you are at taking a standardized test. Some flaws of this system were already addressed in “The Education System Part 1: Individuality,” but there are some even more disturbing effects it can have. This system of judging the worth of a human being based on test scores can significantly lower many student’s self-esteem. It is completely possible to be absolutely brilliant but terrible at test-taking. This destruction of some student’s self esteem can force them into lower classes and therefore holding them back from reaching their full academic potential. Along with this, the pressure put on students to perform well on tests and quizzes can, for some, cause immense amounts of stress. While yes, at times stress can be helpful, if it continues for too long it can negatively impact your immune and digestive systems, sleep, and even potentially lead to serious health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and various mental illnesses including depression and anxiety.
Another source of stress, besides just purely grades, is the fact that many high-schoolers have jobs and/or participate in extracurricular activities, whether it be sports, theatre, clubs, or a band. It can be extremely difficult to find free time, and excessive amounts of homework only make the situation worse. Therefore, stress levels are even more prone to increase than they already would be- even causing some to suffer from burnout.
So, what can we do? Well, the easiest solution would be if those in charge made school start at a later time as well as modified the curriculum and grading policies so it was more than a series of standardized tests. However, until that happens, we can attempt to get more rest by going to sleep earlier. I would suggest trying not to stress quite as much about grades, but that simply isn’t possible for many. As well as activities outside of school, I could not ask anyone to decrease them with a clear conscience, seeing as some rely on their job as a source of income, and many extracurricular activities, while they do take up time, decrease stress by allowing you to do something that you enjoy. What may be even more beneficial is trying to get those in charge to change the system, either through petitions, emails, or maybe even elected officials.